“Essential to success”: Why business leaders must leverage cross generational collaboration

Felicity Furey

Felicity Furey. Source: supplied.

Today we are faced with unprecedented change and challenges like the global COVID pandemic, climate change, water shortages in regional Queensland and systemic cultural issues like gender equality and domestic violence in our society. These are not simple challenges, they are complex, and we must leverage cross generational collaboration to create a world that works.

Research from Harvard Business Review shows that while for some, diverse teams may feel uncomfortable, that’s why they perform better. However uncomfortable it may be, we must embrace differences, especially generational difference. The idea of cross generational collaboration is no longer a good idea or optional, it is imperative for success.

The recent March 4 Justice campaigns are symbolic of what happens when archaic power structures are not working, and how they will continue to feel the brunt when the new generations come barging through. It can no longer be ignored.

Generations are often classified by their differences: Baby boomers are renowned for their loyalty. Millennials are known for their ability to be flexible and demanding work with purpose.

Strong business leaders already know it is the differences and diversity of skills within a team that provides its strength. Too many businesses have succumbed to group think, and strong leaders know that descent within a team is a sign of a healthy culture, not a problem.

As we move into a new age where working from home is normal, career flexibility is expected. A four-day week no longer sounds like a crazy pipe dream, but a mandate from a major corporate. The demands of customers and the organisations business serve are changing.  

In this new world of work and the breaking down of traditional cultural structures, is it time to just write off the boomer generation?

Of course not.

They often have the experience and perseverance required to get results. Instead, we need to leverage cross generational collaboration by encouraging both baby boomer wisdom and the flexible purpose driven millennial mindset. 

Pairing boomers with the generation that has only experienced change, is tech savvy and demands better ethical behaviour presents the opportunity to find new solutions to old problems.

Chip Conley demonstrates the power of this partnership in his TED talk, where he shares his own story of being a ‘wisdom worker’ collaborating with a millennial in order to do his job. 

Chip was brought into AirBnB because of his knowledge of hotels and was to mentor the team. On arrival, he realised he had little to no knowledge of how a tech company works. He pairs up with a 20-something woman who is an expert in tech and she translates for him. The two work brilliantly together and they in fact need each other to solve the complex challenges they are faced.

This story is not unique to Chip. Leveraging the knowledge of wisdom workers and collaborating across generations has been fundamental to get my first two businesses off the ground — and they wouldn’t have happened without it.

Many of my mentors have the same mission as me: to see a diverse and inclusive world. Collaborating has enabled us to solve complex challenges our world faces by leveraging our strengths and access to resources. 

As CEOs and leaders in business, my mentors have a trusted network of executives and influencers, something that I lacked early in my career. My mentors have been champions of diversity, advocating for me in the boardrooms they are in. They have pushed for funding and resources into initiatives I have been involved in, including Power of Engineering, Maths In Real Life and the Millennial Leadership Program.

At first I thought how could I help them — they knew a lot more than me, had more experience and had led people and businesses. To my surprise, there were a few things I had that my mentors didn’t.

The big one was time to go make change happen plus the ability to be flexible, purpose driven and leverage technology. I was not willing to sit back and complain about injustice, I had to go do something about it.

My approach to creating diversity often meant speaking to school students. As a young female this was, surprisingly, an advantage in this setting and something that my mentors didn’t have. For once I was happy to be the younger person and took advantage of this, along with the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective and an understanding of technology as an instrument for change.

We are faced with a time when complex challenges of gender equity partnerships and collaboration across generations are not nice to haves, they are essential for success. 

People in positions of power and influence can use their power and influence to advocate for the grass roots change makers. The grassroots change makers can rally the crowd and invest their time in making change happen. 

Working in isolation is not an option if we want to solve climate change or see gender equity happen in our lifetime. Already we are seeing the newest generations standing up, no matter what the consequences.

We must collaborate across all generations and the future ones to come.


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